Chris Bentley came home one August evening in 2010 to find her horse missing from his corral.

Bud liked to wander the area near Bentley’s home, about 11 miles outside of Thermopolis. But at day’s end, he’d return to the corral, where grain and hay waited. When the old bay failed to appear that night, Bentley went looking for him.

She’d adopted Bud about 15 years earlier, a weak and destitute colt that had been separated from his mother. The lack of nutrition early in life resulted in arthritis as he aged. He still made for a fine a pet, hanging around the yard like a dog.

“The same temperament: waiting at the yard gate for treats, very friendly,” she said. “He wasn’t afraid of anybody.”

Bentley found Bud in a pasture within 100 feet from her home, dead from a bullet would. She ran back inside and closed the curtains.

“I was absolutely petrified because I couldn’t imagine what happened,” she said. “My first thought was there was some crazed maniac doing a drive-by shooting, or someone shooting from the ridge. I had no clue.”

Bentley would eventually learn that David Larson, the undersheriff of Hot Springs County, shot her horse. The officer assumed Bud was a neglected stray and decided to put the animal out of its misery. According to court papers, Larson never checked whether the horse belonged to Bentley, even though he killed Bud on her property.

Last fall, Bentley and her husband, Larry, sued Larson in U.S. District Court, alleging he trespassed on their property and killed Bud without legal justification. On Wednesday, they settled with the undersheriff for $2,700 and the cost of their legal fees.

Larson never apologized for killing Bud, Bentley said. But the judgment provides some comfort.

“Hopefully law enforcement will learn they have to follow the law,” she said. “People deserve a little respect on their private property.”

Larson was fired from the department for unrelated reasons, according to the lawsuit. His attorney, Senior Assistant Attorney General Patricia Bach, did not respond to a message left Wednesday. In court papers, she stressed her client’s decision to settle the case was not an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

In a legal reply to the lawsuit, Bach said her client “shot the neglected animal to end its suffering.” At the time, he did not believe the horse was owned by the Bentleys.

Bud was far from neglected, Chris Bentley said. In fact, she gave him all the food and water he could want and babied him more than other horses.

The horse had been sick a few weeks before his death. But Bentley cared for him and his health had started to improve, she said.

“I did what I could,” she said. “If the good lord was going to take him, he was going to take him. He wasn’t suffering. If it was hard to watch, I would have rethought some of my options.”

No warning

According to the lawsuit, the shooting occurred after two off-duty officers spotted Bud while driving on a road that passes through the Bentley property. Larson responded to the scene along with a veterinarian.

The vet noted Bud appeared “thin, crippled and in tough shape – but not in imminent danger,” the suit states.

Wyoming law required Larson to notify a brand inspector to determine the animal’s owner, Bentley said. Bud had a legible brand, but no one called the inspector. Nor did anyone contact the Bentleys.

“All they had to do was make one phone call,” Chris Bentley said. “But they took it upon themselves to decide.”

Earlier this month, the Bentleys added Hot Springs County Sheriff Lou Falgoust to their lawsuit. They claim his deficient department policy toward animal euthanasia contributed to Bud’s death.

At a deposition, Falgoust testified his deputies were expected to use good judgment and exhaust all possibilities before killing an animal. However, he could not specifically identify how those expectations were passed along to his officers, the lawsuit states.

Falgoust’s attorney, Larry Jones of Cody, declined comment when reached Thursday.

For her part, Bentley hopes the court case will encourage officers to check with an inspector before euthanizing what appears to be a stray animal. If the officers had simply followed the law, the whole episode could have been prevented, she said.

“We need to stand up for our rights,” she said. “If Larry and I hadn’t gone ahead and pursued this, I’m pretty sure it would have happened again.”

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com. Visit http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.

(15) comments

Sassy
Sassy

The Deputy didn't call the brand inspector and shot the animal? He broke the law.

nls

What a creep..He should have gotten more than sued.. People can be shot for trespassing.

pappy

Shoot a trespasser your no better than the deputy. Your a poster child for gun control.

nls

Oh If Some one came on to your property and shot your horse you would do nothing. And by saying trespassers can be shot it is the truth. This guy's is a freaking idiot thinking this was ok and did nothing wrong.

pappy

I'm not defending this guy or the Dept lack of action. What he did was wrong and showed a total lack of judgement, they deserve everything they get. I find it hard to believe they they didn't settle long before now.

lawdog

Once again the worst lawbreakers in Hot Springs County work in the courthouse. Shameful.

Sassy
Sassy

2700.00 plus legal fees.....Only if your Cop

DeanWY

Sounds more like he was the judge,jury and hangman. He should have been procecuted for cruelty to animals. Good thing they fired him...

Horselover

I have heard that this case isn't over. I think the Sheriff and County are next for their wrong doing in this. In cases like this, I think the attorneys fees are collected separately, and knowing attorneys, it was probably a bundle.

lawdog

If the Sheriff had any integrity or courage he would admit to wrongdoing, ask for forgiveness and resign. Instead, he will continue to cost the County more than he is worth.

oldjules


There are many people that don't take good care of their horses, They don't feed them and work with them. But it is not good to have lawmen up and shoot them.

lawdog

I have followed this case from the first report. The Sheriff Departments' lack of integrity and training reflects poorly on all law enforcement. Just to see people commenting a deputy could be shot is scary. Responsibility obviously lies with the Sheriff and the County for creating this bad situation..

Horselover

The Sheriffs Deputy should have contacted the Brand inspector and owner. She said the horse had been sick, so find out the story before you break the law and take matters into your own hands. This family is well known in the Livestock circles t/o the state, and they are known for taking care of their animals. There was no excuse for this in my book!

ers

As a land owner, a small working farm, the owner would of been in the right to shoot...the cops know damn well they don't come on my land unless they have a warrant .....!

lawdog

This Deputy was fired for some other infraction, but this horse incident didn't rise to the level of firing!!! Come on, why was the Sheriff protecting this deputy and what other wrongdoing has he allowed? This should be investigated by DCI.

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